Janna Rosenkranz as Varius/Octavia and Dolabella

One of the original practices that Pigeon Creek partakes in is doubling. In Antony and Cleopatra, I double six characters: a messenger, another messenger, Varius, Octavia, a soldier, and Dolabella. To make things a bit easier on myself I’ve made the first and second messenger and the soldier the same person, just during different time periods in his life. This works out for me because the play takes place over approximately ten years (the second Roman Triumvirate lasted from 43 BCE to 33 BCE). My named characters also change over time. I found this exercise particularly interesting as my characters are very rarely on stage and have only short speeches (as opposed to the last role I played with Pigeon Creeek – Boyet in Love’s Labours Lost, who doesn’t stop talking!).

What I decided to do is use Shakespeare’s treatment of the passage of time in the play as follows. Since we are looking at snapshots of events during that ten-year period, my characters have to age and change along the way and present that change in each scene they are in. For example, the first messenger in Act I, Scene i, is a young, middle-class Roman who came to Egypt with Antony. He does as he’s been taught. He had honor and duty to his betters and is slightly disgusted and disturbed by Antony’s behavior with Cleopatra. Egypt is like New York would be to a young man who grew up on a farm in Nebraska in the 1870s. (It helps that our Roman costumes are Victorian.) In the his second scene, he has become more confident, while remaining very loyal to Antony. As a solider, he has risen in the military ranks, and although he is in the midst of a very strange event, he shows maturity in the way he handles it.

We only see Varius twice and in one of his scenes he has no lines, but I also try to give him some more weight as a pirate in the second scene. Last in my male roster, Dolabella changes from his blind allegiance to Caesar to seeing how manipulative Caesar really is. At the end, he emotionally favors Cleopatra.

On the feminine side of my roster, Octavia is key to the action of the play and somebody who I could do real research on. In real life she lived with Antony for years and had two daughters with him. After he died she raised his children from his marriage with Fulvia and his relationship with Cleopatra along with her own children. My motivations for her are, as always, based on the text, but I’ve elaborated by giving her a more family-based loyalty. She is motivated by family honor. However, she has duties towards both her brother and husband and is truly torn between them. When Octavian tells her that Antony is with Cleopatra in Egypt instead of Athens, she is more upset because she, and therefore her family, has been humiliated, rather than because she has a great romantic love for Antony. Beforehand, she believes she can bring Antony and her brother together, as is her duty, but she is unsuccessful which is shameful to her.

I’m sure that a different actor would have a different way of managing these characters but as someone with a liner mind this works great for me and has given me a new insight into bringing Shakespeare to life!